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Twins waste strong Baker effort in loss

Twins waste strong Baker effort in loss

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CLEVELAND -- After watching their pitching staff get hit around time and time again in a four-game series sweep by the White Sox in Chicago this past weekend, the Twins headed to Cleveland with the hopes that one of their starters would deliver a solid outing to get the team back on track.

The club finally got that strong start on Tuesday night. Unfortunately, it came on a night where the other team's ace awoke and delivered a gem of his own.

Scott Baker gave the Twins their first quality start since May 29, giving up just one run over his seven innings, but C.C. Sabathia pitched his second complete-game shutout of the season to hand Minnesota a 1-0 loss in the series opener at Progressive Field.

Coming off his first American League Cy Young Award last season, Sabathia hadn't exactly been dominant so far this season. His 3-8 record and 4.81 ERA were not reminiscent of the pitcher who has so often shut down the Twins.

Yet with the Twins coming into Tuesday's game feeling in much need of a pick-me-up, the old Sabathia returned, looking as strong as the team has remembered.

"I don't care what a guy's record is, or what he's done this season, when you are featuring that type of stuff you are going to run into that every now and then," Baker said of Sabathia's performance. "He was dominating tonight. He just pitched a little better than I did."

Early on in the game, it looked like the Twins might be able to get to Sabathia. But a series of baserunning mistakes squandered those opportunities.

They began in the first inning when Carlos Gomez and Alexi Casilla led off the game with back-to-back singles. Getting the speedy tablesetters on base seemed a good sign for Minnesota.

But with one out in the inning, Justin Morneau hit a line drive to left field. Rather than looking to see if the ball was going to be caught by left fielder Ben Francisco, Gomez ran full steam to third base with his head down.

So, when the ball was caught, Gomez was nowhere near second base and Francisco's throw to second doubled him off easily.

"He thought for sure it was in the gap and he put his head down," Gardenhire said. "But you've got to watch the ball. Obviously, he got too excited there. You have to slow the game down a bit. But it's a young man mistake."

The blunder would prove costly as the Indians tagged Baker for a run in the bottom half of the first. Francisco hit a one-out double to left field and scored on Ryan Garko's single to center field with two outs in the inning.

Despite the one early run, Baker's outing was just what the team had hoped to get from him. In just his second start back following a month long stint on the disabled list, Baker (6-2) scattered eight hits while walking one and striking out one. He threw 95 pitches over his seven innings, only the third time since May 29 that a starter had pitched six or more innings.

"Physically, I felt pretty good," Baker said. "It was just one of those days where my stuff didn't feel like it was overpowering, by any means. I just made some pitches when I needed to."

The Twins still looked like they had a chance to get to Sabathia after the first, as they tallied leadoff hits in each of the next three innings off Sabathia. However, two more times the Twins would waste them due to some poor decision-making on the basepaths.

In the third, Matt Macri led off with a bunt single. But misreading what he thought was a steal sign, Macri tried to head to second base only to be thrown out in his attempt.

However, the hardest of all the blunders to take was the one that came in the fourth. Joe Mauer singled to left field to start the inning and with the heart of the Twins order coming up, it seemed like the best opportunity for the Twins to get back into the game.

But when Morneau came to the plate, the first baseman hit a low pull shot into the second base hole. Unsure whether it was going to be a one-hop or a liner, Mauer started to take off for second. So when second baseman Josh Barfield caught the ball, Mauer was caught too far from the bag and the Twins were doubled off for the second time in the game.

"I was kind of a sitting duck," Mauer said. "I didn't think [Barfield] was over that far. I saw him there but I thought it was going to hit the ground so I was kind of just in the middle. I think I was out there far enough that even if I did try to go back, I was probably out anyway. It was just one of those weird plays."

From there, Sabathia settled down to appear much more dominant. He would retire 17 batters in a row to finish out the game, having allowed just five hits and striking out five in his outing, and completed the Indians' first 1-0 shutout of the Twins since May 6, 1969.

"He's tough," Gardenhire said of Sabathia. "I don't know what his record says this year but I think the home-plate umpire made the statement saying that's the best he's seen him throw this year or the last two years. That says a lot, because he did win a Cy last year."

The loss was the Twins' sixth straight, a season high. But despite seeing another tally go up in the loss column, this one seemed much different than the previous four the team had endured in Chicago.

This time, the Twins were in a ballgame for most of the game and they finally saw their pitching right the ship. And the hope is that Baker's strong outing will be the boost to get things turned around as a whole.

"If we go out and pitch like this, I like our chances [Wednesday]," Mike Redmond said. "If we continue to do this over the course of time, we'll be fine. Bake went out after a tough four games in Chicago and gave us a chance. And we needed that."

Kelly Thesier is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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